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Book 22

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 22 of Homer's epic poem The Iliad.

The Iliad | Book 22 | Summary

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Summary

Apollo reveals he has tricked Achilles into letting the Trojans escape, and Achilles runs back to Troy like a deadly star. Despite the pleas of his parents, Hector waits outside the gates alone. But when Achilles approaches, Hector breaks and runs in fear. Achilles chases him around the plain of Troy, always blocking him from the city. Apollo gives Hector extra strength to flee for a time, but Zeus's scales declare his doom, and Apollo departs. Disguising herself as Hector's brother Deiphobus, Athena pledges to help him fight Achilles so that Hector will stand and fight.

Hector proposes a pact that the winner will not mutilate the loser's body, but Achilles has only rage in his heart, saying, "There are no binding oaths between men and lions." Achilles throws his spear first, and Hector dodges. Unbeknownst to Hector, Athena then brings Achilles's spear back to him. Hector's spear throw hits Achilles's shield dead center—and bounces off. Hector calls to Deiphobus for another spear, but there is no one there.

Realizing his fate is upon him, he charges with his sword. Achilles spears him through a hole in the armor—his armor—and slashes his neck. Dying, Hector begs Achilles to ransom his body back to his parents for burial, but Achilles responds, "dogs and birds will rend you—blood and bone!" Achilles strips his body of armor and other Achaeans take turns stabbing the body. As Achilles drags Hector's body back to the Achaean camp behind his chariot, the whole city wails in mourning. Hearing the cries, Andromache runs to the walls and faints when she sees what has been done to her husband.

Analysis

Pride and honor finally bring Hector to his doom. Waiting at the gates, he recognizes "reckless pride" made him reject Polydamas's advice, and now he can't retreat without facing dishonor. Andromache regrets Hector's "fatal headstrong pride" that doesn't allow him to give ground to anyone. However, that is also part of what makes him honorable and heroic. Even as he begs Hector to return to the city, Priam fears the disgrace of dying an old man in a conquered city (a fate he will soon suffer), suggesting it is better to die young gloriously.

Hector's vow to never run from Achilles goes out the window when they come face to face. Whether or not it was intended, the image of fighters running after each other across an empty battlefield is a bit comical. However, the stakes—Hector's life—could not be more serious. This scene also contains a striking simile, comparing the chase to a nightmare in which the dreamer can never catch what he is chasing, a theme different from that of any other simile in the poem.

Achilles is his most godlike in battle (he needs no help from a god to run endlessly and never gets tired) but least human. Achilles doesn't even treat Hector as human, instead viewing him as prey. He refuses to agree to respect Hector's body in any way, threatening to "eat you raw" (the same sentiment is attributed to Hera in Book 4). These two warriors represent very different kinds of heroism. Achilles is all heroic strength and fighting prowess, but he suffers from character deficiencies. Hector displays the more heroic character, valuing mutual respect even amid the horrors of war and in the face of death.

Inextricably linked with Hector's doom, the impending doom of Troy lies especially heavy in Book 22. Priam foresees, as Andromache did in Book 7, that Troy will fall without Hector. This makes the scene in which Andromache learns of Hector's death especially poignant. She fears the fate of their son, who will lack status without a father. Tragically, as Homer's audience knew, his fate is much worse.

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